Donald S. Marsh, 86, who with his companion and collaborator of 50 years Richard Avery provided the soundtrack to a generation of Presbyterian camp- and conference-goers, died at Casa Real Health Center in Santa Fe, N.M. on April 10.
For more than 40 years, Marsh served as choirmaster and director of arts for First Presbyterian Church in Port Jervis, N.Y., a small city 80 miles northwest of Manhattan. During that time he collaborated with Avery, the church’s pastor, in the composition of more than 150 published hymns, carols and anthems.
He also founded a church-sponsored community theater program called Presby Players and directed 75 major plays and musicals, ranging from ancient Greek drama to Broadway musicals.
Beginning with a small songbook called "Hymns Hot and Carols Cool" in 1967, the team of Avery and Marsh wrote songs in a variety of contemporary styles that are now found in hymnals and songbooks around the United States and Europe. They include "We Are the Church," "Every Morning Is Easter Morning" and a joyful calypso version of the Doxology.
In the late 1960s, Avery and Marsh began to share their music and creative ideas for worship at church conferences and regional and national assemblies, including 30 summers leading contemporary religious music seminars at Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.
Marsh was born in 1923 in Akron, Ohio. He spent his first 13 years in Singapore and Sumatra, where his father was an accountant on rubber plantations. He earned degrees in art, drama and music from the University of Houston. Then he spent 17 years in New York City acting and dancing on TV and playing the piano, before moving to Port Jervis to work for the church.
Marsh is survived by Avery; his sister, Nancy Marsh Straight; and by numerous close friends in Santa Fe and Port Jervis. A memorial service will be held on May 2 at Westminster Presbyterian Church of Santa Fe.